The months-long dispute between CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli and senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal is far from being resolved. Each camp has upped its ante against the other through verbal attacks, demonstrations, and revival of militant-like groups such as the Youth Force and the People’s Volunteer.
A couple of weeks ago, Oli revived the party’s Youth Force, which was set up in 2008 to counter the Maoists’ Young Communist League (YCL). It was dissolved a year later by the party’s eighth general convention. Following Oli’s revival of the Youth Force now, the Nepal faction has also revived the People’s Volunteer (PV) group, which was also dissolved by the same party convention, for the same reason that its hooliganism, just like Youth Force’s, was tarnishing the party’s public image.
Now, the two groups are doing their bit to get the attention of their leadership and to take the rivalry to the streets. The Youth Force has already organized big rallies, by openly flouting Covid-19 social distancing and mask guidelines. The People’s Volunteer are following suit.
Defending the mass demonstrations his group has been organizing, Kshitij Thebe, commander of Youth Force, says: “The present political turmoil is more unbearable for the common folks than the impact of Covid-19.”
Shiva Kumar Shrestha, head of People’s Volunteer, says his group will retaliate if the Youth Force gets involved in any unruly behavior. “We will not remain silent if anyone besieges our leaders’ residence [as the Youth Force did a week earlier].”
However, both camps claim that the youth groups have been revived, not to intimidate one another, but to deploy volunteers at vaccine centers, assist in rescue programs during natural calamities, advocate for justice, and hold those in power to account.
But their actions suggest otherwise. The Youth Force recently formed a 1,101-member valley command under Pushpa Raj Shrestha, who in 2008 claimed to have brought the YCL “under control”.
“Nepal is now being controlled by international agents and we will expose them,” says Shrestha who, however, sees the midnight meeting between Oli and the head of RAW as no more than an innocuous diplomatic get-together.
Meanwhile, public health experts are worried that crowded clashes between the two groups could trigger a third wave of Covid-19 infections in Kathmandu, just as demonstrations against the dissolution of parliament coincided with the second wave.
Kiran Poudel, chairperson of National Youth Federation Nepal, the mother association of Youth Force, says most of their volunteers are vaccinated so the rallies won’t spread the virus. “The media only blames us, but turns a blind eye to protests by other groups,” he adds. Likewise, Shrestha from PV says his group organizes rallies only when prohibitory orders are relaxed.
Some UML leaders such as Yogesh Bhattarai have called on the groups to end hostilities and lobby with party leadership to keep UML intact. “Leaders of the two groups must dissolve their respective youth forces at the earliest,” says Bhattarai, who was earlier in the Nepal camp. He urges both Oli and Nepal to work towards party unity and get the party back on track before rival forces take advantage of their disunity.